The curious case of Jimmy Greaves

Just over a week into his 76th year, Jimmy Greaves will settle into an armchair somewhere in Essex on Sunday afternoon to no doubt run a critical eye over the latest in a long line of would-be pretenders to his throne as Tottenham Hotspur’s greatest-ever goalscorer.

Harry Kane will stride out at Wembley carrying the hopes of the Spurs’ fans on his broad shoulders and he will lead the line against a Chelsea side that has already felt the full force of the 21-year-old’s attacking prowess.

Kane began 2015 as he has subsequently carried on, in spectacular fashion, with two goals and an assist to inspire Spurs to a 5-3 win against Chelsea on New Year’s Day.

The young striker has further cemented his status as a fans’ favourite at White Hart Lane by netting a second-half brace to win the North London derby while last weekend he fired home an injury-time equaliser against another of the capital’s Premier League contingent, West Ham United.


At half-time on Sunday, the White Hart Lane stadium announcer called on fans to pay tribute to Greaves to mark the former frontman’s 75th birthday.

It is on occasions such as these that many fathers and grandfathers become all gooey-eyed and nostalgic as the returning hero is presented to the crowd.

‘What a player he was’ or ‘They don’t make ‘em like that anymore son’, is normally the chatter as minds wander back to the ‘good old days’.

However, the younger generation of fans who hold the cockerel close to their heart would have been looking around forlornly for a glimpse of the great Greaves on Sunday.

The man who has rattled the back of the net more times than anyone else in Spurs’ history – 268 goals in 381 games – has not been back to this particular part of North London since being used as a makeweight in the transfer that saw Martin Peters swap the claret and blue of West Ham for the white of Spurs in 1970.

Greaves, a boyhood Spurs fan, had spent the previous nine seasons terrorising defences across England and beyond on his way to building a reputation as arguably the most potent and prolific goalscorer the domestic game has ever seen.

After spending an unhappy six months at AC Milan – where he registered nine goals – Spurs manager Bill Nicholson brought Greaves back to London for a record fee of £99,999 in December 1961.


Already boasting three hat-tricks on the international stage, the East End wonderkid signed for the Rossinieri following four stellar seasons at Chelsea, for whom he netted 132 times in 169 appearances after making a goal-scoring professional debut in 1957.

Greaves served notice of his phenomenal appetite for goals the previous season by hitting the target more than 100 times for the Chelsea Youth side.

The first of Greaves’ 44 England goals came on his debut against Peru in 1959.

He would go on to represent his country 57 times, scoring a record six hat-tricks and remains the most prolific scorer in England’s history in terms of goals-per-games.

Wembley provided Greaves with the most bittersweet moment of his career as he was forced to watch Geoff Hurst gain immortality with a World Cup Final hat-trick in 1966.

Greaves began the tournament as England’s first choice striker but got injured in a group game against France forcing him to miss the quarter-final and semi-finals.

Although declared fit for the final, his replacement Hurst had impressed Sir Alf Ramsey enough to keep his place for the clash with the West Germans and the rest as they say…

Three games and one goal later, Greaves called an end to his international career in August 1967 primarily because his flamboyant persona both on and off the field did not sit well with the regimented style of Ramsey.

Just four years later, at the age of 31, a disillusioned Greaves retired from the game for good after spending one season at Upton Park.


Despite making a brief George Best-esque return, turning out for the likes of Brentwood and Barnet, Greaves admits he spent most of the 1970s battling alcoholism.

However, he claims to have not touched a drink since 1978 and a relatively successful media career followed including weekly columns in both The Sun and The Sunday People.

For a generation of fans he is best remembered as one half of the Saint and Greavsie duo on ITV when he and former Liverpool striker Ian St John hosted a Saturday lunch-time show which ended in1992 when Sky secured rights to the newly formed Premier League.

In an ideal world, Sunday’s League Cup Final between the two clubs for whom Greaves plundered a combined total of 400 goals would seem a perfect way to mark the milestone birthday reached by the man who now follows the well-trodden path of many ex-pros on the after-dinner speaking circuit.

Greaves has reportedly declined an invitation to be officially inducted into the Spurs Hall of Fame more than once despite the efforts of many teammates and ex-players at the club to convince him otherwise.

Forty-five years after his departure from White Hart Lane Greaves is evidently still hurt by the way he was forced out of the club.

The Spurs fans will no doubt be bellowing out ‘He’s one of our own, he’s one of our own’ in homage to Kane during Sunday’s final, as the Walthamstow boy will be looking to continue a fine breakthrough season.

It remains a curious and somewhat shameful fact that perhaps the greatest Hotspur of them all will not be among the 90,000 spectators watching on at Wembley.

The Author

Gary Anderson

Football writer. Donegal man now living in Manchester, via High Wycombe, swapping Finn Park and Adams Park for Old Trafford. Thrilled and frustrated in equal measure by the Boys in Green.

7 thoughts on “The curious case of Jimmy Greaves

  1. Just a couple of points: Greaves has in fact returned to White Hart Lane twice since his transfer: The first occasion was for his testimonial (He was the first living Spurs player granted one) and at the memorial for Bill Nicholson where he gave one of the eulogies.

    Regarding the Hall of Fame induction, Greaves has made it clear that he considers these as nothing more than an “earner” for the club, to make money from the former players. Seats at the dinner for these events are £100 upwards not including drinks.

    Of course when you think about it, there is nothing to stop the club inducting him without his presence, but where’s the profit in that?

  2. Arguably, the most influential player to ever play for Spurs although others will understandably say Blanchflower, Mackay, John White etc. To me, he has never received the full credit and admiration that he deserved .Happy birthday Maestro, take a well deserved bow because in my humble opinion, you were the best !!

  3. In my eyes the greatest living poacher club and country that ever was he knew exactly were the the ball was going to land and he was there before it hit the ground , to me that is a true poacher and goal scorer this is what is wrong with Soldado when the ball is crossed into the box or an open space Soldado is else where he can`t be in that danger zone “never” where the ball would to his advantage !

  4. Certainly a great player, certainly a tragedy that he does not allow himself to receive the appreciation he deserves, but always a bit on the cantankerous side, and always inclined to include a ‘yes but’ into any conversation. BUT it remains his choice and we can do nothing but respect his right to choose. As one who was there at the time, I’d put him below Blanchflower, White and McKay in the pecking order, though why one would want to peck rather than applaud all these people I don’t know …….

  5. Hi Gary. A very interesting piece. It is also is a mystery as to why he has not been Honoured by the Queen, given his immense contribution to our national game. There have been none like him. We can recall Geoff Hurst , Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore amongst others to be Honoured. But no Greavsie. Seems to be a terrible omission. There is a small FB page which might be of interest to you and to others who are admirers of this footballing genius. “Jimmy Greaves should be awarded a Knighthood”.

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